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The Desire for Literacy 2: George

This is the second of eight excerpts we will be offering from Lauren Rosenberg’s The Desire for Literacy: Writing in the Lives of Adult Learners, a volume in the CCCC Studies in Writing and Rhetoric Series. We’ll be offering a new excerpt each Monday. In this book, Dr. Rosenberg shares her interviews with various people who sought literacy as adults.


Lauren Rosenberg’s The Desire for LiteracyFor nearly twenty years, George worked in drop-forging, a hot, heavy, and precise process of shaping metal. He recalls:

[I worked at] Moore Drop Forge, making different things for airplanes, and Ford Motor Company, and Sears, wrenches and one type or another. Wasn’t a whole lot—they didn’t know I couldn’t read and write. Far as, um, you see, you had to set up a job. . . . When you set up a job, you got to be, like, you got to set up by a thousand, ten thousand, fifteen or twenty thousand, or either half a inch, a inch, or whatever; you know, you got to be exactly right. But see, I learned this from working with people, you know, from experience. I learned ’cause when you couldn’t read and write, you have to make sure you know, you keep, you see, what you see, you know, in your head. You got to know what you learn, what you see other people do. And I learned. . . .

Three hundred men viewed him as an expert. They acknowledged that George had “accomplished something.” He knew it by his high wages. He was valued and he valued himself. People at the “Drop Shop” didn’t need to know that he couldn’t read and write, and George was able to keep his nonliteracy covered up with his outstanding workplace performance. But George’s prowess didn’t last. Sometime in the mid-1980s, the work was outsourced overseas, and the forge closed. The sudden shutting down of the forge, and with it the end of long-term, steady employment, came as a shock:

And they closed it; everybody around there was hurting. Some guys was too old to get another job, and some of them, a lot of guys, was lucky to get another job, you know? And me, I didn’t have no education or go get a better job than I had there. And I began to worry, and I began to think . . . I began to think about my education then. You know, what I didn’t have, to deal with searching, getting another job. I knew I could get another job, but I wouldn’t get a job that paying me like the job that I had. . . I didn’t know where to go to get a education. I knew I couldn’t just go to a public school; they wouldn’t accept me. I was too old for that. And it took me a while before I found out; I went and got another job, you know, working. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I had to live, so I kept, I had, uhh, houses, one stuff or another, you know, mortgage to pay. . . . I’ve had to work, but I still, in the back of my mind, I still wanted a education.

 

All eight of our excerpts from this book will be added here.